Liubou Charkashyna, the president of the International Gymnastics Federation’s athletes’ commission—which was created to represent gymnasts’ interests—used a recent interview with Belarussian media to express skepticism about the frequency of abuse in sports and victims’ motives.
While acknowledging that sex abuse is a problem and saying that her “heart froze” while listening to testimony of an athlete abused by her coach, Charkashyna spent more time casting doubt on victims.
“I admit it’s possible to believe that yes, there are such cases in the sports, but not the amount of specifically the sports cases that have been thrown at us… as an opportunity to earn money on that or [get revenge] for the old insults, to shame the names of the coaches or someone else… Because, well, this is America, they know how to make money, you need to understand this.”
As for the first point, Dr. Daniel Rhind, whose research focuses on protecting children in sports, notes that it’s common for the number of abuse reports to increase after an organization implements protective measures. “As soon as you put the safeguards in place, the number of cases you have goes right up,” he told Deadspin in 2017. “Straight away, people think, ‘Oh my goodness, the problem is getting worse? What are you doing?’ And you have to explain [this] is that actually a good thing in the sense that people are coming forward, they have the confidence, they know who to report it to, they believe it will be dealt with properly.”
“I think there needs to be a culture change alongside that to say actually, we want these people to be encouraged coming forward and not to have a goal of having no cases, cause that leads to cover up and silence and things like that,” he continued.
As for Charkashyna’s second claim, it’s clear she’s alluding to the survivors of Larry Nassar in her remarks about Americans who “know how to make money.” Hundreds of Nassar survivors have filed lawsuits against the individuals and institutions that enabled his abuse for years (including Michigan State, which settled for $500 million, and USA Gymnastics, a member of FIG). USA Gymnastics has yet to settle with survivors.
Charkashyna also cast doubt on Belarussian gymnastics legend Olga Korbut’s claims that she was abused by her coach, Renald Knysh. Other former gymnasts have also said they were abused by Knysh. (Knysh has denied the allegations.) Charkashyna’s issue with Korbut’s disclosure appears to be that Korbut waited decades before talking about what happened to her.
“You have to talk about it the moment it happens, not 80 or 50 years later. The Soviet time [when she couldn’t talk about it] has been over for quite a while,” Charkashyna said, ignoring that the median age at which victims of childhood sexual abuse come forward is 48.
Charkashyna’s remarks are all the more damning given the athletes’ commission’s relationship with the new Gymnastics Ethics Foundation, which was created to address the issues raised by Nassar’s abuse of hundreds of women and girls. Former U.S. gymnast Ivana Hong currently serves as the athlete representative on the foundation board.
Deadspin asked FIG for comment on Charkashyna’s quotes and will update this post if they respond.